I have always been a fan of prevention when it comes to health. If we can support our body’s natural defense mechanisms from day to day, then we will be more resilient to pathogens that may come up in the throes of a frigid winter. Making slight adjustments to the foods we eat, getting sufficient rest, reducing stress, and incorporating some herbal plant allies can really help us keep on top of our health when the weather gets hairy.
As we move towards more coldness and more dampness in the fall and winter months, so do our bodies. In terms of western herbalism, cold and damp within the body can make us more susceptible to illness. We can help to reduce this coldness by eating a diet that is energetically warmer and drier.
Warming foods include cooked root vegetables, broths, onions and garlic. Most of the culinary herbs and spices that we use are antibacterial AND energetically warming (Yay!). These include basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, fennel and sage, all of which have the added benefit of being carminatives, meaning they support digestion and dispel gas. Cloves, cardamom and cinnamon are also lovely additions to hot winter drinks (also all containing antibacterial properties).
Cold foods to avoid include raw vegetables, seaweeds, and cold drinks. Damp forming foods to avoid include refined sugar, excessive oils, and dairy, which can all lead to excess phlegm production. It goes without saying that consuming ice cream in the dead of winter is not something we should strive to achieve.
Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi (Ganoderma lucidium) and chaga (Inonotus obliquus), as well as astragalus (Astragalus membranaceuos) are adaptogens (herbs that help the body deal with stressors), and they can do a great job at boosting the body’s immunity when taken long-term, but should be avoided in acute conditions (they have the potential to push the illness deeper into the body).
So what to do if a cold has got us??
It depends on the individual and their underlying constitution (everyone is different!), but generally one cannot go wrong with Echinacea. Echinacea (angustifolia or purpurea spp.) root is an immune-modulator, enhancing our body’s natural defenses. It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and antibiotic properties. A medicinal dose for an adult at the onset of a cold is 5ml (approximate teaspoon) of an Echinacea tincture (alcohol-based extract) between 2-5 times a day, or 5g of the root boiled in 2 cups of water drunk throughout the day.
Other useful herbs include diaphoretics (herbs that make us sweat), which help to move blood to the periphery, helping the body push out illness. Diaphoretics include elder flower and berry, yarrow, lemon balm, peppermint, chamomile and catnip. Herbs which induce a sweat are also often herbs which can bring about menstruation, so consult an herbalist if you are pregnant.
Here is an example of an energetically warming herbal tea to stay warm during cold times, which has the added bonus of supporting digestion.
Warming Spice Tea
1 tsp dried ginger,
1 stick of cinnamon, broken,
1/2 teaspoon fennel
¼ tsp nutmeg
5 cardamom pods
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 pt. water.
Boil for l5 mins and then strain. Drink a cupful every couple of hours. Sweeten with raw unpasteurized organic honey.